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About two weeks ago Julia and I attended the US Global Leadership Council’s annual conference. The day was filled with brilliant speakers, but in the end we both agreed that one of our favorites was Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Working shop. He discussed “Muppet Diplomacy”, the idea that through educational television we can develop nations and encourage a more positive relationship between the U.S. and other nations. As Julia mentioned in an earlier post, this was a refreshing viewpoint on a panel that mostly focused on the direct impact of development on business’ pockets (not so surprising since it was a panel on development’s economic impacts).

Sesame Workshop was founded thirty-eight years ago to help low income children in the U.S. prepare for school. The concept was simple: use television to address the developmental needs of children. Since then, the Sesame Street model has gone global. Sesame Workshop works with 18 countries (Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt ,France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Mexico, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Russia, South Africa ) on locally produced media following the Sesame model. Each production team involves the top educators, researchers, psychologists, child development experts, artists, writers and musicians in their respective countries. Today Sesame Street if the most researched show in history.

What is most interesting about this process is how local productions are using the Sesame model to talk about regionally relevant issues. Rechov Sumsum, the production in Israel features Arab-Israeli and Jewish- Israeli muppets living together in harmony. Alam Simsim, Egypt’s production features a bright young female muppet, Khokha, to promote the empowerment and education of young girls.

South Africa’s Takalani Sesame embodies the spirit of the “rainbow nation” and features muppets that speak with accents that reflect the diversity of the nation. Most notable is Kami, a young female muppet who is HIV positive. As South Africa continues to be devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the show is attempting to dispel the culture of silence and stigma surrounding the issue.

The name “Kami” comes from the Setswana word “Kamodelo” which means “acceptance.” Kami is a Read the rest of this entry »


Something interesting I found on the IPS website today:

The United States and South Africa Share Great Challenges

July 14, 2010 · By Dedrick Muhammad and Christopher Towne
Originally published in The Huffington Post

Both the United States and South Africa, despite black leadership and multicultural societies, still labor under the legacy of segregation and inequality.

This year, the world was united in our excitement for the World Cup, and in praise of South Africa being the first host for the games in the continent of Africa. Thirty-two countries would compete and more than a million tourists came to South Africa during the month; visitors from Zimbabwe, the US, Malawi, Mexico, and all over the globe joined the Zulu, Xhosa, East Indians, Afrikaners, British, mixed-race “Coloureds,” and other infinitely diverse people that make up the hosting “Rainbow Nation.” But when the wave of euphoria subsides, South Africans will still be faced with a fractured society, a legacy of segregation and inequality established under Apartheid and persisting to this day.

The 2010 tournament has attracted more American viewers than any previous World Cup, and is certain to set records for the amount of viewers around the globe. The tournament has also instigated a record amount of Internet traffic, and has been called the biggest event in the history of the Web. Controversy surrounds the South African government’s use of funds to aid the FIFA games, and the removal of local merchants from the stadium areas in favor of official FIFA-licensed products. But the fact that the World Cup was held in Africa has become a symbol itself: of the continent’s progress since the days of colonialism. What may become the most-watched sporting event in history was held not in Europe or North America, but in Africa.

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It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love water.  My master’s thesis is centering around women and water, and I could talk about the benefits of keeping water public for days.  For these reason, I am truly excited about the fact that the right to water and sanitation is being considered by the UN as an addition to the Declaration of Human Rights.

Water is necessary for life — not only for the physical necessity of keeping hydrated, but also for the the daily tasks like cooking, cleaning, and sanitation.   Access to clean water and sanitation can prevent fatal diseases that have plagued the developing world for years and survive only in memory in the developed world.

In the recent decades, water has been increasingly privatized, making it difficult for those not in power to have access to clean water.  In South Africa, the private companies charge way about the income level of the poor; in other countries the water systems are not maintained, leaving broken pipes and pumps that don’t work.  These situations force the people to go back to drinking the dirty water that causes diseases like dysentery or cholera.  Even in the US, our water systems are in danger of being privatized by corporations looking to make a profit (or take the bottled water industry…selling our water back to us in little plastic bottles).

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In my previous post I introduced you to our AID Chapter at Western Kentucky University, and told you about our work on Foreign Assistance Reform. I failed to mention our other large focus this past semester, how silly of me!

This Spring we worked with a Professor, Dr. Saundra Ardrey, to create a course called “Grassroots Resistance in the 20th/21st Century.” We used the course to explore previous methods of grassroots organizing and change to enhance our organizing for the future. While we initially set out to have the class deal with foreign assistance reform as well, an opportunity presented itself to try and affect real change in a unique way.

Dr. Charles McGruder, a professor at WKU and world renowned physicist, brought to our attention an exciting project for both science and development called the Square Kilometer Array.  Here’s a little background from the abstract we are presenting to Congress:

The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) is an exciting scientific endeavor; it will be the world’s largest radio telescope comprised of three thousand dishes capable of new science in the search for answers to life’s big questions, including the birth of our universe. The international consortium working to bring SKA to life is currently debating the host country for the project, with South Africa and Australia being the potential recipients. While both sites meet the technological and geographical requirements, South Africa and the eight partner countries on the African continent that will host parts of SKA, will see many benefits in terms of alleviating poverty and spurring development. The Square Kilometer Array is an opportunity for a new approach to development, offering a way to advance science and humanity at the same time. The promise of investment in vital areas such as education, technology, and infrastructure, including a massive expansion of high-speed Internet access, will aid these countries in overcoming problems and advancing development.

Now us “Hilltoppers” from WKU are headed to the “Hill” in Washington, D.C. this week to present a proposal we drafted urging Congress to take steps to encourage the International Consortium in charge of placing SKA to choose the African bid. We have drafted a sample resolution of support that we hope to get introduced to Congress, but we are looking also for advice and support on the best ways to act to support the South African bid.

I will keep you all posted on what happens on our journey.

In a bold, pre-sustainable development era move, the World Bank is pushing to finance a US$3.75 billion (rand 29 billion) project to establish a new coal plant in South Africa twice the size of the largest plant currently in Great Britain.

This project would be directed through Eskom, one of the largest suppliers of electricity to Africa (approximately 95% of South African electricity and 45% across the country), and incidentally one of the dirtiest and most resistant to clean, sustainable energies. And wait, it gets worse: Eskom had also, originally, planned a rate increases of 45% (!), but only a 25% increase was permitted by the South African government – which is still terrible.

Quick recap: the self-proclaimed sustainable development development agency, the World Bank, wants to loan the South African energy giant Eskom US$3.75 million to fund another dirty, out-of-fashion coal plant. W-O-W!

South Africa already emits more CO2 per capita than the UK and yet some 15% of its population remains unconnected to its energy grid. The SA government aims to reign in this portion of the populous with this new plant, but as a country rich in solar and wind potential, the largest funder of development assistance worldwide ought to be initiating development projects that will be sustainable, long-lasting endeavors, and not endanger South Africans present and future.

An African environmental group, Groundwork, has criticized the loan as “a bad project, contributing to energy poverty and environmental destruction.” This plant will only further pollute streams, destroy and pollute communities, and create an expensive mess the government will only be forced to cleanup years on down the line.

So,, one of the best, most cutting-edge progressive groups out there has launched a campaign, alongside 65 other indigenous groups in South Africa, to stop this ill-conceived development project.

Take action. Tell the World Bank “Clean Energy for South Africa, NOT Coal!”


It was last December, in a cozy Ann Arbor bookstore, that I first came across the book “The Shadow of the Sun.” I had finished all the previous books on my list (even succumbing to the chick-lit turned spiritual journey chronicle, “Eat Pray Love”) and decided to pick this one up and read it.

I was floored by its depth and detail. Written by famed Polish journalist, Ryzard Kapuscinski, “The Shadow of the Sun” outlines the tumultuous growing pains of the African continent in wrenching itself from the jaws of colonialism. In the mid-late 20th century, African leaders from Senegal to Ethiopia, from Eritrea to Mauritania, and Sudan to South Africa forged independent states through  armed uprisings and bloody coups. The tragedy being that many of these liberation struggles did not result in emancipation from greed, exploitation, and poverty. Instead, colonial leaders were merely supplanted by corrupt natives.

What I found most fascinating about this book was the author’s descriptions of the sometidead_aidmes detrimental role played by foreign aid. Wars were waged over grains of rice and packets of dry milk. Hungry adolescents were easily convinced by powerful warlords to snatch aid away from the neediest to fuel their armies.

Apparently, not too much has changed.  This very debate about the efficacy of aid has recently been raging through foreign policy blogs, online newspapers, and even talk shows. The ignitor of this debate is Zambian businesswoman, Dambisa Moyo, who argues in her new book,”Dead Aid,” that foreign aid has plunged Africa into a state of permanent dependency and painful inefficiency. Moyo’s primary arguement – over the past 60 years, a whopping 1 trillion dollars have graced the continent in the form of aid, ultimately, to amount to nothing.

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If you paid even a little attention to this year’s presidential campaigns, you probably noticed talk of President-elect Obama’s unprecedented use of text-message updates to communicate with voters.  Thousands of miles away in South Africa, health workers aren’t far behind as they find new ways to maximize cell phone technology in getting the word out about HIV/AIDS.

A collabwoman_cellphone_07orative effort between iTeach, the Praekelt Foundation, frog design, Nokia Siemens Networks, and the National Geographic Society, Project Masiluleke will reach one million South Africans daily with information about HIV/AIDS testing and counseling services around the country.  With nearly 6 million people infected with HIV, South Africa has one of the highest infection rates in the world.  Yet, talking about AIDS is still so uncommon that only 5% of the population has been tested, despite the widely available testing and even free treatment.  On the flipside, close to 90% of South Africa has a cell phone.  During a three-week usability experiment in October, Project Masiluleke increased average daily call volume to the National AIDS Helpline in Johannesburg by almost 200%!

But South Africa isn’t the only one to catch onto this social innovation.  BBC World Service Trust and the Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation are backing a three-year massive ringtone campaign (be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page and listen!) in India in an attempt to make condom use more socially acceptable.  The acapella ringtone currently gets around 5,000 downloads a day and, —in conjunction with tv, radio, and print adds— is anticipated to reach roughly 52 million Indian men.

With 4 billion users worldwide, cell phones holders are five times more prevalent than owners of a personal computer.  As such, they are becoming and increasingly popular topic of discussion as a tool for development.  Last month, USAID launched a new open source challenge to explore the potential of mobile phone applications connecting people in developing countries to key resources in health, banking, education, agricultural trade, or other pressing development issues.  Winners will be awarded between $5,ooo and $1o,ooo and the opportunity to share their idea with potential investors.

So while many of us may have resigned ourselves to the irrelevance of unsolicited and automatically generated messages, could text messages and ringtones really be the key to ending the aids pandemic?  Probably not in isolation, but they are proving to be a clever tool in reaching otherwise inaccessible or overlooked portions of the population.


December 2018
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